Harlem Monuments Spruced Up for Spring

Photographs by Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times

John Saunders, a monument conservation manager for the Parks Department, cleaned the Harriett Tubman monument at 123rd Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard.

Four interns were climbing Harriet Tubman’s back clutching wax and rags, and a city conservationist hung around near her shoulders with a blow torch and can of lacquer. Tubman — or rather her towering bronze representation at 122nd Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard in Harlem — was getting her first makeover since being installed in 2007.
The sculpture, officially titled “Swing Low,” a $2.8 million public commission by Alison Saar, was one of the first stops this summer for the city’s Monuments Conservation Program, a privately supported city endeavor to keep the more than 1,300 public monuments in New York looking good — even though some are more than a century old.
The Tubman monument was unveiled in 2007.

The work on the Tubman statue, which honors the antislavery activist and conductor of the Underground Railroad of the mid-1800s, took place on Thursday morning. It began with a thorough scrubbing, using a lather.

The Tubman monument was unveiled in 2007.

“It’s basically shampoo,” said Christine S. Djuric, a city monuments conservation manager overseeing the work.

After the bath, the interns went at the statue with their wax, while another project manager, John Saunders, worked the blow torch to remove moisture from the statue before applying a protective coating.

When the statue was first erected, the workers did not use enough finish, and Tubman was at risk of premature tarnish, Mr. Saunders said.

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One thought on “Harlem Monuments Spruced Up for Spring

  1. Thank you for such an informative story. That is certainly funds well spent by the city and private investors alike. I never knew that there was such a program before. I haven’t seen the Harriet Tubman statue as yet. But will make it a point to view it before the summers end.

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